(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists from NASA’s Perseverance rover reported today that the rover has collected some tantalizing samples of organic rock from an ancient river delta on the Red Planet.
Those samples have now been removed for a planned future mission that hopes to retrieve samples and bring them back to Earth for the first ever sample return from Mars.
“The rocks we have studied in the delta have the highest concentration of organic matter that we have ever found during a mission,” Perseverance Project scientist Ken Farley said during a press conference on Thursday, September 15.
“And, of course, organic molecules are the building blocks of life, so it’s all very interesting. that we have rocks that were deposited in a habitable environment in a lake containing organic matter.”
With four samples collected from what scientists believe is the former lakebed, the rover has now collected 12 samples in total. You can see more details on each sample on this NASA website.
The rover’s landing site, Jezero Crater, is home to this fan-shaped delta that formed about 3.5 billion years ago, at what appears to be a convergence. Martian river and lake.
Perseverance is currently investigating delta sediments formed when particles of various sizes settled in what was once an aquatic environment.
During its first scientific campaign, the rover explored the floor of the crater, finding igneous rock that was formed deep underground from magma or during volcanic activity on the surface.
Now, in a second science campaign, the rover is exploring the delta where it found organic materials. While organic matter has been detected on Mars before by both the Perseverance rover and the Curiosity rover, this latest discovery was made in an area where, in the distant past, sediments and salts were deposited in a lake under conditions that could potentially support life.
Farley said they found, for example, sandstone, which contains grains and rock fragments from far away from Jezero Crater, and mudstone, which contains intriguing organic compounds.
“Wildcat Ridge” is the name given to a rock about 3 feet (1 meter) wide that probably formed billions of years ago when mud and fine sand settled in an evaporating seawater lake.
On July 20, the rover rubbed part of the surface of the Wildcat Ridge. thus, he could analyze the area with an instrument called Habitable Environment Scanning by Raman and Luminescence for Organic and Chemical Substances, or SHERLOC.
SHERLOC analysis showed that the samples contain a class of organic molecules that correlate with those of sulfate minerals. Sulfates found in sedimentary rock layers can provide important information about the aquatic environment in which they formed.
“This correlation suggests that as the lake evaporated, sulfates and organic matter were deposited, stored and concentrated. in this area,” SHERLOC scientist Sunanda Sharma said during a press briefing.
“Personally, I find these results so touching because it feels like we are in the right place with the right tools at a very important moment.”
NASA has stated that organic molecules are made up of a wide variety of compounds made primarily from carbon and typically include hydrogen and oxygen atoms. They may also contain other elements such as nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur.
While there are chemical processes that produce these molecules that do not require life, some of these compounds are the chemical building blocks of life.
The presence of these specific molecules is thought to be a potential biosignature – a substance or structure that could be indicative of a past life, but could also be created without the presence of life.
“We chose Jezero Crater. for Perseverance because we thought it had the best chance of providing scientifically superior samples and now we know we sent the rover to the right place,” Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA Associate Administrator for Science in Washington, said in a press release. -release.
“Those first two science campaigns collected an amazing variety of samples that could be brought back to Earth as part of the Mars sample return campaign.”
NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are collaborating to plan ways to bring the first samples of Martian material back to Earth for detailed study. Currently, the sample return lander is scheduled to land near or in Jezero Crater, delivering a small rocket that will be loaded with samples collected by Perseverance.
Two Ingenuity-class helicopters will provide a secondary sampling opportunity on the Martian surface. Once the cache of samples is launched from the Red Planet, another spacecraft will capture it in orbit around Mars and then return it to Earth, possibly by the early-to-mid 2030s.
These first collected and returned samples may answer a key question: Did life ever exist on Mars?
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